Volunteers Conclude Critical Bird Survey

Conservancy birders reveal the true impact of a proposed new highway.

October 05, 2013

The proposed alignment for the West Davis Corridor highway extension, which would be built on the southeast shore of the Great Salt Lake, would be bad for birds. No one disputes this. But just how many birds – what variety, and in what quantity – would be affected was a matter of significant dispute… until Nature Conservancy volunteers went out and counted.

“30,374 unique sightings of 139 species” Conservancy board member and volunteer birder Maunsel Pearce concluded this fall. Pearce, along with a dozen other volunteers, birding enthusiasts from all over the Wasatch, visited the Conservancy’s Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve every two weeks from April to October and took detailed notes of each bird he encountered. “We also spotted state and federally listed sensitive species,” he adds. “The American white pelican, long-billed curlew, bobolink, short-eared owl, grasshopper sparrow and bald eagle.”

“This is the best way for us to prove how many birds depend on [the preserve],” said Vivian Schneggenburger, a volunteer from Salt Lake City. Indeed, each survey point represented an area of the preserve that would be directly or indirectly altered by the proposed highway. The survey has become an important tool in demonstrating how severely the highway would impact the viability of the preserve, not just reducing critical bird habitat, but also displacing and disturbing wildlife in the surrounding ecosystem.

“Our interest is and always will be the protection of the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve, and the globally important wildlife habitat we have worked so hard in the past 27 years to save,” explains Chris Montague, the Conservancy’s Director of Utah Conservation Programs. He submitted results of this first-of-its-kind survey, along with extensive comments on the Utah Department of Transportation’s (UDOT) proposal, in September. At the time of this writing, UDOT is reviewing the extensive comments it has received from the Conservancy and other non-profit groups, as well as federal and state agencies and private citizens, to evaluate the potential implications of the highway’s alignment.

“We and our partners paid market prices to own this acreage, just like any other landowner,” says Montague. “If this highway is constructed, it will impact very important natural habitats, and we want those impacts to be fully understood and mitigated. This survey will play a part in ensuring that highway decisions made in the next several months will represent a better solution for both nature and people.”

For more on this story, Deseret News and local TV network KSL have recently featured these incredible volunteer birders.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

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